Me & My Money

Mum inspires fashion retailer to start her own business

Ms Ngeow Jiawen's online retail business Megafash now has physical stores at I12 Katong and Orchardgateway malls. She set up her first businesses straight after graduating from university.
Ms Ngeow Jiawen's online retail business Megafash now has physical stores at I12 Katong and Orchardgateway malls. She set up her first businesses straight after graduating from university.ST PHOTO: YEO KAI WEN

Megafash chief exec started dabbling in e-commerce during her university days

Entrepreneur Ngeow Jiawen's interest in investing was sparked by her mother, and perhaps the same could be said for her bold move to shun the corporate life.

A recession hit when she was in junior college, and her mother decided to leave her job instead of taking a pay cut because the lower salary would not have been enough to sustain her family.

Ms Ngeow, 27, says: "She started to invest her savings to make side income and she was really good at it.

"If anything, she was the one who seeded the idea that besides blindly saving up, you could put your money in investments."

That same bravado can be seen in her as she started dabbling in businesses like e-commerce and organising events for instance in university, and setting up her own businesses straight after graduating from the National University of Singapore.

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ENTREPRENEUR NGEOW JIAWEN

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  • Q What has been your biggest investing mistake?

    A That I didn't start earlier. The thing about investing is having to throw off the feeling of inertia to start reading up and get started.

    But the sooner you do this, the greater the returns. If you don't, money just sits in the savings account and the interest rate doesn't make sense.

    Q And what has been your best investment move?

    A Investing my time, effort and money into Megafash has really helped me to grow, as a leader and entrepreneur and in understanding how to utilise money to its maximum potential.

    Q What is the most meaningful thing you've done with money?

    A Starting Megafash. As we work mainly with independent makers (businesses) around South-east Asia, it is very heartening to see them grow their brands and increase their sales with us.

    Many of them are committed to giving part of their profits back to their local community too.

    Rachael Boon

"It wasn't enough for me to just attend classes. My brain needs to work all the time."

Ms Ngeow's first business after university was a ladies' apparel e-commerce business that started operating in 2013, achieving a turnover of about $650,000 last year.

She and her team ran that business until they developed Megafash, a retail store that started as an online store in December last year, and ceased the first online business.

It carries more than 100 local and Asian brands, and many of them give back to the community and produce goods that are socially responsible.

She says: "At the early stages, my co-founder's mum very generously invested $15,000 in our company to get us started. But you know $15,000 doesn't get you anywhere in Singapore.

"We used it to get the simple things going, like the domain and basic technology infrastructure. After a few months, we were getting new customers every day and decided to take the business to the next level."

Besides its e-commerce site, this year Megafash opened a 1,000 sq ft store in I12 Katong, and another in Orchardgateway that is at least 600 sq ft.

Ms Ngeow notes that Megafash's sales growth ranges from at least 10 to 20 per cent each month, and revenue for its first year is at least $500,000.

Megafash had a seed round last year of $400,000, and welcomed angel investors as well as venture capital firms like East Ventures, and is going to raise another round of funds.

However, things are moving a little slower on the personal investing front for Ms Ngeow, who just started last year.

The Megafash chief executive says: "I'm pretty lazy when it comes to my own finances, but very fast when it comes to business. I execute things very fast. I guess it's because I always prioritise building my business first."

She studies the finances of Megafash "at least two times a week, just to know how the company is doing daily, if we are meeting the targets and how much we are spending".

This means once she spots a problem or flaw in the business, she can immediately get down to fixing it.

Ms Ngeow became cautious after reading about a similar site and competitor that raised $1.4 million but closed down after a year.

"That scared me because in terms of funding, we were much smaller, so I started to think of ways to make sure that we wouldn't run out of money."

She says that entrepreneurship is not for everyone, but the results are fulfilling.

"Nobody can understand how difficult it is until they get into it and they realise it's a deep hole they've got themselves into. But if you just hang in there and continue to pace yourself and stay focused, it's not that tough. It's tough when you let the obstacles get to you, and those get blown out of proportion, affecting your ability to lead.

"It takes a lot of perseverance. A good entrepreneur is someone who can get rejected 1,000 times and still believes in what he is doing."

Q Moneywise, what were your growing-up years like?

A My mum was the breadwinner and my dad would look after my sister, 21, and me.

Everything was fine but when the recession hit, her company wanted to cut her salary by half so she quit as that wouldn't sustain the family.

My mum was educated until secondary school, and my dad had primary school education. They've divorced.

She started in shares and trading, and it's become a full-time job she created for herself. Now all of her investments are in Hong Kong. She feels the Singapore stock market moves too slowly.

Q When did you start investing?

A Ever since I got out of school, I've been investing in my businesses, and I started investing in stocks last year and property this year.

I bought a three-room Housing Board flat in Balestier at about $350,000 with my dad, my biggest investment to date. It'll be ready by the end of this year and he'll be living there.

As a Singaporean, your first HDB flat is subsidised and property is a safe investment. Not everyone gets the chance like I had, to get my dad a place, but the opportunity came about.

Q Describe your investing strategy.

A When I started buying stocks in Singapore, the companies I chose were stable and had good dividends.

For Hong Kong shares, I looked at how fast they moved so that I could buy low and sell high. I won't be focusing on that any more.

About eight weeks ago, the market crashed, and I had a paper loss of about $8,000 to $10,000 and I didn't even know because I was working on Megafash.

I'll be more inclined towards investments that don't need commitment and constant monitoring, like the Singapore Savings Bonds, which I'm considering, and property. They don't take up a lot of time, but the downside is your money gets tied up for a long time.

Q What's in your portfolio?

A The flat which is near the MRT, making it more valuable in Singapore. It didn't matter what area it is in.

I started investing in stocks after the business started to take care of itself. Previously I was ready to pump my own money into the business to keep things going, but last year the business did pretty well and I was drawing a salary.

I have only about 10 stocks in my portfolio. I used to have some oil and gas and printing stocks in Singapore, but since last month, I have only Hong Kong shares. The Hong Kong market has a lot of opportunities but you need to watch it very closely.

Q What does money mean to you?

A Money should be used to do good and it should never control the decisions you want to make. Due to my family background, I used to say I wanted to make a lot of money.

When I left university and started my own business, I found it a bit ironic because I'd have no salary at times, but I knew it was what I wanted to do.

Q What meaningful plans do you have for your money?

A I have this idea of providing micro-loans to the underprivileged independent makers from around South-east Asia and getting them to sell with Megafash. I would love to materialise this some time soon after the festival holidays which is a peak, busy period for me.

Q What's the most extravagant thing you have done?

A Buying my house. That's not exactly extravagant but I cleared out much of my savings to buy it.

I'm extravagant whenever I'm dining with my colleagues, friends or business partners. That's my style - to invest in relationships and people.

Q What are your immediate investment plans?

A Once my HDB flat hits the five-year mark, I plan to buy a private property.

We also intend to grow the business by at least 20 per cent annually, as its play into both the tech and retail sector allows the business to grow quite exponentially.

We're currently in the process of raising funds from external investors, and hope to be able to get investors who can help us in our overseas expansion so we can realise our 20 per cent annual growth key performance indicators.

Singapore's market may not be big enough for us in the long term.

Q How are you planning for retirement?

A I won't ever be able to retire because of how restless I am. I hope to be able to do angel investing. I've been thinking about it recently.

My friends in the public and private sectors are starting to look for fulfilment elsewhere and they are asking me to start ventures with them and how to get started.

But I'll be putting aside at least 20 per cent of my salary starting this month. I told myself that by 30, I want to get my own property and a car. I have managed to do the first - and plan to get a car - three years ahead of time, so my focus will be saving up for the future.

Q Home is now...

A A four-room HDB flat in Redhill with my mum and sister, which I've been living in since I was nine .

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 06, 2015, with the headline 'Mum inspires fashion retailer to start her own business'. Print Edition | Subscribe